Yahoo Stakes Out Paid Search Path

With a new paid inclusion program, Yahoo is merging services from recent acquisitions and distinguishing itself from Google, despite concerns over fairness in paid search.

NEW YORK—Yahoo Inc., with it launch this week of a revamped program for Web sites to pay for inclusion in its search engine, is attempting to reap the rewards of its flurry of search acquisitions last year as it takes a different approach from rival Google Inc.

Search engine marketers and analysts, gathered here for Jupitermedias Search Engine Strategies 2004 conference, viewed Yahoos Tuesday announcement of its Content Acquisition Program as its logical next stop for bringing together the search properties from its Inktomi Corp. and Overture Services Inc. purchases. But they also raised fairness and pricing concerns about Yahoos paid inclusion approach.

Yahoos Content Acquisition Program includes paid inclusion as well as a method for tapping into documents from what is called the "invisible Web," content rarely reached through search-engine Web crawlers or sitting in proprietary databases.

Yahoo, of Sunnyvale, Calif., is allowing select non-profits, government agencies and academic institutions to submit Web content for free. They include National Public Radio, a collection of Supreme Court audio recording from Northwestern University and the Library of Congress.

The companys Overture division is running the commercial portion of the program, called Site Match. It merges what had been three separate paid inclusion programs from Inktomi and Overtures AltaVista and AlltheWeb.com search properties. The consolidation both simplifies the process for Web sites that pay to be crawled or submit XML feeds and extends their reach to all of Yahoo Search, said Chris Bolte, Overtures vice president of strategic alliances.

Yahoo last month dropped Google for its Yahoo Search site and introduced its own search index and crawler that feeds search across all its services. The much-anticipated move has heightened competition in the search-engine market.

Bolte stressed that the paid inclusion program is a complement to Yahoos Slurp Web crawler, which indexes billions of Web pages. Free search listings make up about 99 percent of the index with only 1 percent from paid inclusion.

By embracing paid inclusion for its new search technology, Yahoo is opening itself to questions about fairness in its Web index and staking a sharp contrast from search leader Google, said Nate Elliott, an analyst at Jupiter Research, in New York. Google, of Mountain View, Calif., highlights the fact that it accepts no payments to guarantee inclusion in its Web index.

Even if search engines dont favor Web pages that pay to be included, as Yahoo has promised, they raise the appearance of a conflict of interest, Elliott said. "It always just looks a little bit fishy," he said. "Search engines index the Web on their own, and its almost like paying them to do their own job."

Next page: Google: No plans for paid inclusion.